Republicans wary of regulating on-demand economy

Republicans wary of regulating on-demand economy
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Republican lawmakers on Tuesday proved wary of a severe regulatory crackdown on companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which are part of what has come to be called the on-demand economy.

“There should be some limited government oversight, particularly where safety is significant,” said Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessOvernight Regulation: Senate passes Dodd-Frank rollback | SEC charges Theranos CEO with 'massive fraud' | Former Equifax exec charged with insider trading | FEC proposes changing digital ad rules Overnight Health Care: CEO of insurer lobby group stepping down | SEC charges Theranos founder with 'massive fraud' | Abortion fight holds up health deal House panel to examine 25 opioid bills next week MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

But he said that “generally speaking, the sharing economy companies do face regulations, like most other firms, under the typical patchwork of federal and state laws.”

“And I for one am more concerned about existing regulations hurting new jobs than than I am about the need for new regulations.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who chairs the full Energy and Commerce Committee, said that as “with any developing marketplace, we must recognize the risk of stifling innovation with reactionary regulatory measures. At a time when jobs are still hard to find and balancing the budget is a challenge, we should not risk job creation with hasty calls to regulate.”

Democrats on the panel were more worried about the questions raised by the on-demand economy, which include a debate over the status of many of its workers and more traditional consumer protection concerns.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky said that though the comapneis have brought major changes to the markets where they operate, “this transformational change is not always positive.”

She raised questions about the status of on-demand economy workers, who are often classified as independent contractors, who do not get employer-provided benefits and protections, and about the safety of consumer data at companies such as Uber.

“All of these issues must be addressed if we are to insure that the sharing economy is as much about improvising the lives of working Americans as it is about improving the market cap of gig economy companies,” she said.

The panel’s witness list included many defenders of the on-demand economy, including Michael Beckerman, the head of lobbying group the Internet Association, and an Uber driver named Luceele Smith.

“I have worked in traditional jobs before, but there’s nothing else out there where you can set your own schedule and your own goals,” Smith said, pushing back against the argument that Uber has enough control over their workers to qualify them as employees.

The hearing represents the first move by Republican lawmakers to exert their authority over the issues associated with the on-demand economy. Though GOP candidates on the campaign trail have loudly pushed back against the prospect of regulating the companies, their colleagues in Congress have been more cautious on the issue.

So far, the main voice calling for reforms to accommodate the companies has been Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel releases election security findings | Facebook to meet with officials on Capitol Hill amid Cambridge Analytica fallout | Orbitz admits possible breach Facebook to meet with officials on Capitol Hill amidst Cambridge Analytica fallout Senate Intel releases summary of election security report MORE (D-Va.). He has suggested doing more to seperate benefits from employers but has yet to introduce legislation on the topic.